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Thursday September 19, 2013 MYT 6:17:04 AM
Thursday September 19, 2013 MYT 6:39:01 AM
by mitch phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Brett Gosper, the most powerful man in world rugby, entered the battle for the future of the European club game on Wednesday by saying that the International Rugby Board (IRB) did not want to see an Anglo-French breakaway from the Heineken Cup.
English and French clubs announced last week that they planned to set up their own two-tier competitions after running out of patience with stalled negotiations over the future of the Heineken Cup.
Europe's two most powerful unions are frustrated by what they see as a qualifying system unfairly weighted in favour of Ireland, Wales and Scotland and want a greater share of the income from the tournament.
Since then both sides have used the media to present their respective cases, each saying the other was acting outside of tournament rules. It is the third major civil war to hit the tournament since it began in 1995/96.
Gosper, the IRB chief executive officer, was in London on Wednesday to promote the rugby World Cup, which begins in England in two years' time, but instead the Australian found himself answering questions about the Heineken Cup situation.
"Our clear position is we support a full European competition and our desire is it is a bona fide European competition so we are urging all of the constituents of that conversation at the moment to get together and find a resolution because we obviously believe it is in the interests of rugby to have a strong European competition, it's good for the clubs, it's good for the (national) unions," he told reporters.
"Obviously, they are in a negotiation, hopefully they are in a negotiation, some say they are, some say they aren't."
Pressed for the IRB's preferred outcome, he replied: "We don't believe in an Anglo-French competition in itself. We don't think a tournament such as that is in the interest of the game.
"We strongly believe it should be a European competition. That is what we would be supporting and throwing our weight behind. We know there are lots of discussions that are happening and there are different versions of how there have been fall-outs and disagreements. We urge all of those parties to get together and find some common ground because we believe it is in the interests of the game to do so."
Gosper said the IRB was not getting formally involved in the current negotiations but were talking to both sides privately.
He said that he did not share the fear that this would be the last season of a competition that has attracted huge crowds and terrific TV audiences after producing consistently high-quality and entertaining competition.
"Let's not get too carried away," he said. "This is a negotiation where parties are seeking to get more than they had in the past. It is a normal process.
"This is a young professional sport. The international game is growing, the club game is growing. The clubs have businesses to run and the unions have to understand that. The unions are also providing the context through which the players ultimately come through the system, and the one percent of the system the professional players have. It is a partnership of a kind whether we like it or not. People have to realise we have a future together so we have to work it out.
"We're confident the different parties involved will find some common ground and we're optimistic there will be an outcome that will be good for rugby."
(Editing by John Mehaffey)
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